Zoos are no substitute for appreciating a wild animal in his or her natural habitat, and they usually mean cruelty, suffering, and death for the animals themselves.
Almost everybody loves watching wild animals, though, and we’re very fortunate to be in the 21st century, where technology is improving to the point that we no longer need to imprison them to do so.
Case in point: Big Red and Ezra.
Big Red and Ezra are two wild Red-tailed Hawks who make their home on the Cornell University campus in Ithaca, New York. For two years now, researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology have monitored the nests of these beautiful birds via remote HD cameras, broadcasting them live for all the world to appreciate. The lens view can be zoomed in, moved out, and adjusted so as to get the best view possible–far closer than you could ever get in a zoo or even in the wild, and all without disturbing the birds.
An interactive chatroom staffed with bird experts and curious hawkwatchers add to the experience, as does the impressive FAQ page.
Thanks to the cam, viewers can watch Big Red and Ezra throughout the entirety of the breeding season. We see them build their nest, lay eggs, and take turns brooding and warming them, standing periodically to roll them so that the chicks develop properly. We see Ezra bring prey to Big Red (for she is the one who does the majority of nest-sitting) and we listen to them communicate with each other in a series of chirps and screeches. When the babies hatch, we are witness to the entire grueling experience. (Hatching is a very tough process and can take up to 72 hours!) We watch Big Red and Ezra taking turns feeding them and we see as the hawklets finally figure out how to tear food for themselves. As they grow, we see them become stronger day by day, going from downy balls of fluff who can’t open their eyes or hold up their heads to fully-grown fledglings who leap off the edge of the nest for their first flight.
An experience like this can simply not be compared to watching a captive animal struggling to live some semblance of a natural life in a cage.
There are also other wonderful nestcams at the Lab of Ornithology, including the Great Blue Heron nest.
You can join the journey of Big Red and Ezra now and as can be guessed from this blog post, I fully recommend it.